An international human rights organization based in the
United States is warning that relations between Zimbabwe and China are in the
future likely to be increasingly strained. The Enough Project – an alliance of
scores of advocacy organizations from all over the world – says Zimbabwe’s
recent power-sharing agreement could result in a realignment of Beijing’s
relationship with Harare. China has in recent
years given President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF government significant political
and economic support. Humanitarian groups say this has exacerbated Zimbabweans’
China has shielded the Mugabe administration from several international punitive
actions, such as an expansion of targeted sanctions against the president and certain
members of his ruling ZANU-PF party, at the United Nations Security Council in
July. Beijing vetoed a raft of new measures against the Zimbabwean rulers,
arguing that it didn’t want to meddle in the affairs of a sovereign
the recent power-sharing agreement, “there really has yet to be an
international cost, a measure of accountability, for the (Mugabe) regime,” says
Colin Thomas-Jensen, the Enough Project’s Africa Advocacy Manager.
are bilateral sanctions that the European Union and the United States have
against Zimbabwe, but the type of targeted sanctions that really bite are those
passed by the UN Security Council and implemented by every member state.
Because China’s been such a staunch defender of the regime, we’ve yet to see
that level of international pressure.”
Chinese arms and money keep ZANU-PF going
argue that Chinese support has been a significant contributor towards keeping
Mr. Mugabe in power. Beijing has poured investment into Zimbabwe, and has also
through the years supplied arms and ammunition to the ZANU-PF government.
April, shortly after opposition Movement for Democratic Change – MDC – leader
Morgan Tsvangirai received more votes than president Mugabe in the first round
of Zimbabwean elections, Beijing shipped almost 80 tons of rockets, mortars and
other weapons to Zimbabwe. But, after the deal sparked international outrage
and workers in South Africa refused to unload the cargo, China recalled the
shipment. Speculation continues, though, that the consignment did eventually
reach Harare, although China and Zimbabwe deny this.
rights activists say China has also sold riot control equipment, small arms and
air force trainer jets worth $200 million to Mr. Mugabe’s government. In
addition to the weaponry, Beijing has also given several gifts to president
Mugabe and his allies. The tiles that decorate the president’s palatial Harare
home were a “goodwill donation” from China, for example.
says Beijing’s support for the Mugabe administration thus far has “made a very
bad situation much, much worse. An election’s been stolen, an economy’s been
driven into the ground by president Mugabe and those around him, the security
forces as well as paramilitaries (using Chinese-manufactured) weapons have
committed widespread human rights abuses against the Zimbabwean people. It’s a
humanitarian disaster, it’s a regional catastrophe.”
Chinese government has repeatedly denied that it has played any role in harming
the people of Zimbabwe, saying that it has pursued “legitimate business
interests” in the country, and that Zimbabwe’s internal political and human
rights concerns should be solved by Zimbabweans themselves.
says Beijing’s stance “doesn’t hold any water.”
fact that China throughout this (political and economic chaos in Zimbabwe)
simply stood by and said, ‘this is an internal matter,’ I think sends a pretty
clear message to Zimbabweans that the Chinese really don’t care about
Zimbabwean’s human rights concerns, about their desire for democracy and about
the overwhelming expression that it’s time for Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF to
The activist says the international community has since
the days of apartheid South Africa been awakened to the fact that doing
business with countries that commit abuses against their people emboldens and
strengthens such repressive regimes - “oiling the wheels of war,” in effect -
and cannot be excused as “legitimate” business. This, he says, is seen in a
number of laws passed by certain states in the US that forbid American
companies from doing business with Sudan, which stands accused of perpetrating
genocide in Darfur.
Activists are also at the moment keeping a close watch on
an unfolding case in a New York federal courtroom, where various groups
representing South African victims of human rights atrocities have filed a
lawsuit against 24 international banks and corporations that conducted business
in apartheid-era South Africa. The plaintiffs say the firms’ business dealings
in the country advanced the apartheid system, and that this therefore makes
these enterprises complicit in the human rights abuses of the regime.
China driven by quest for resources
says China’s actions regarding Zimbabwe are “undoubtedly” driven by its desire
for African resources, and that the ZANU-PF rulers grant Beijing certain
privileges in exchange for its political and economic support.
received a number of mining concessions (from Zimbabwe), and it’s really that
that’s been driving the Chinese interest in Zimbabwe,” he says.
businessman and MDC economics official, Eddie Cross, says some within the
country’s mining industry are concerned that the Mugabe administration is
transferring a “range of mineral rights” to Chinese companies, or to firms run
by the president’s political supporters who in turn also have close ties to
Chinese state-owned enterprises.
spokesman for the ZANU-PF government, George Charamba, says the Chinese are
“doing a lot of good for the people of Zimbabwe, with jobs and all of that” and
that Harare wouldn’t have forged such close ties with Beijing “if it wasn’t in
the best interests of all our people.”
says the government has clearly made it as easy as possible for the Chinese to
do business in Zimbabwe. It has, for example, exempted Chinese imports from
customs duties, and president Mugabe has awarded the contracts to supply all
public buses and provide generators to Zimbabwe’s power company, to Chinese
to Cross, Zimbabwe has paid Beijing “mostly in kind” for this, especially with
tobacco and mineral rights, as foreign exchange is in short supply in Zimbabwe
and the country’s own currency is almost worthless.
in 2005, Cross says the ZANU-PF government began to lease land seized from
white farmers to “Chinese interests on a contract farming basis.”
Thomas-Jensen comments, “The Chinese haven’t really received a return on their
investments that they expected. Nor have the Zimbabweans seen the Chinese
investment do anything to stanch the bleeding of what’s the worst economy in
says the Chinese have invested heavily in “infrastructure projects” in
money’s been laid out but it’s not yet been (spent), and I think that’s partly
– if not completely – due to the imploding (Zimbabwean) economy. Even for
China, this is a very risky business environment that they’re working in.”
Beijing has indicated nothing but patience with regard to Zimbabwe, saying it’s
not concerned about the minimal returns on its investments in Zimbabwe so far,
as it’s business plan for the country is long-term.
Tsvangirai Looks West, not East
Mugabe has called his pro-China policy ‘Look East’ and he says it’s bearing
fruit, with increasing numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Zimbabwe, for
opposition to president Mugabe has grown since he began confiscating
white-owned farms in 2000, he has repeatedly said that he doesn’t need Western
financial and political support, and is far better served by Beijing, whose aid
comes with no strings attached.
analysts say Tsvangirai – who in terms of the power-sharing agreement is
Zimbabwe’s new prime minister – is likely to significantly alter Harare’s
relationship with the giant of the Far East…. If he and ministers allied to him
are indeed eventually given real powers to shape government policy.
than a ‘Look East’ policy, Tsvangirai has clearly in recent years cultivated a
‘Look West’ policy. For better or worse, he’s seen as very closely allied with
Britain and America,” says Professor Sean Jacobs, a South African expert on
southern African politics at the University of Michigan in the U.S.
in turn says it wants to see a positive outcome in Zimbabwe, and is willing to
cooperate with the authorities there whoever they are, as long as it’s for the
mutual benefit of both China’s and Zimbabwe’s people.
says he doubts Tsvangirai will simply “let bygones be bygones” with regard to
China’s recent role in his homeland.
“If Morgan Tsvangirai did have a role in which
he could exert some influence on the Zimbabwe government’s policies, I really
think we would see a reexamination within the Zimbabwean government of the
relationship with China. Mr. Tsvangirai and MDC supporters are not going to
easily and quickly forget the role that China’s played in helping to prop up
this ZANU-PF government.”